LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The National Rifle Association said Wednesday it no longer supports a bill allowing concealed handguns on Arkansas college campuses after it was limited to people 25 and over who have gone through active shooter training.
The NRA urged legislators to remove the changes to the bill that were made through a deal between Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and lawmakers. The group supported an initial version of the measure approved by the House that would have required colleges and universities to allow faculty and staff with a concealed handgun license to carry on campus.
“Our goal is to make public college and university campuses safer by removing the needless constraints placed upon law-abiding citizens who wish to carry on campus,” NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide said in a statement. “Unless House Bill 1249 is amended to reflect a true campus carry bill, one without excessive mandates and needless restrictions, the National Rifle Association will not support it.”
A 2013 law leaves the decision on whether to allow faculty and staff to carry concealed guns up to the schools, but none have opted to do so.
The latest version of the campus guns bill would allow anyone 25 and older with a state concealed handgun license to carry on campus if they undergo up to 16 hours of active shooter training. The deal was struck after the Senate tacked a minimum of 16 hours of training for employees who want to carry on campus, a move opposed by the campus carry supporters.
The lawmaker behind the measure said he understands the NRA’s concerns, as well as objections from opponents who believe the measure goes too far, but said he doesn’t expect any more changes. The bill is pending before the state Senate.
“The reality is, we’re in the business of serving the people of Arkansas and that means we’re going to do what’s right for them,” Republican Rep. Charlie Collins told reporters. “In my view, with the Legislature we have, this is the best step forward to help protect our loved ones on campus, and I’m eager and optimistic and hopeful we’ll get this done.”
The measure faces opposition from higher education officials, including the heads of the state’s largest university systems, who say the decision on campus guns should remain with the schools. Opponents have also said allowing concealed guns would create a dangerous situation for police on campus.
Hutchinson, who headed a NRA task force that called for trained, armed staff at schools following the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting, said through his office he still supports the revised measure.
“The governor supports the ability to conceal and carry on a campus with training and Rep. Collins’ bill as amended does that,” said J.R. Davis, a spokesman for the governor.